Fentanyl. 50 to 100 more times potent than morphine. The synthetic opioid analgesic is increasing in use, with the number of deaths skyrocketing every year. The use of fentanyl is latching itself onto the opioid epidemic, replacing prescription opioids as the leading cause of drug overdoses. Fentanyl is often found laced in heroin and pills, only amplifying the potency and danger. What is even scarier is how easily accessible the drug is.

Fentanyl can be administered by physicians to patients who are dealing with severe or chronic pain, most commonly after major surgery. However, non-pharmaceutically it is often found laced in heroin or pills, as a powder, or on a blotter paper. The drug can be snorted, swallowed or injected. Similar to both heroin and morphine, the effects of fentanyl can lead to euphoria, addiction, unconsciousness and ultimately death. The drug affects opioid receptors in the brain that control breathing rates. This can be extremely dangerous at high doses, causing breathing can stop completely. Overdosing on fentanyl is greatly increased depending on the level of potency. Because it is often mixed with heroin or other pills, the amplification of the drug potency can often lead to death. Many times, users are unaware that fentanyl is present in heroin or pills, making the users susceptibility to overdose even greater.

It isn’t difficult to acquire fentanyl illegally. It can easily be found on websites and purchased just as you would with the rest of your online shopping. With discounts and options to buy in bulk, these websites provide an easy way to satisfy the demand for fentanyl. Most online orders are shipped directly to the United States, Canada, and Mexico from China, the leading source of the drug. The use of fentanyl is skyrocketing, likely due to the ease of obtaining it.

Suppliers typically ship illicit drugs through the U.S. Postal Service, where data is not always required in advance for packages. Without having advanced information from shippers like who the sender is, where the package will be received, and the contents of the package, Customs and Border protection is unaware of suspicious packages coming into the country. In the last year, only 36% of packages through the Postal Service had advanced data. This may change soon.

Moving closer to being passed by Congress is the Stop Act. The bill has been backed by several lawmakers, including Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who since 2016 has been in support of the bipartisan measure. The measure will require 70 percent of shipments mailed internationally through the Postal Service to have advanced data. 100 percent of shipments from China would require advanced data. This should be in effect by December 31st, and by 2020 all shipments coming from foreign countries will be required to have advanced data.

While it will not solve the entirety of the overall opioid epidemic, postal reform offers a solution to stopping the illegal trade of fentanyl, just one step closer to reducing the amount of overdoses and illegal drug use in our country.